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Supreme Court Will Determine Whether Laches Applies to Patent Suits

May. 02, 2016|By Gregory B. Collins


Laches generally bars legal remedies when a plaintiff unreasonably delays bringing suit and the defendant acts during the plaintiff’s delay in a way that makes it unjust for the plaintiff to recover.  On May 2, 2016, the United Supreme Court agreed to determine whether laches bars a claim for patent infringement. 

The United States Supreme Court accepted review of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in SCA Hygiene v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC.  In SCA Hygiene, an en banc Federal Circuit ruled 6-5 that a defendant accused of patent infringement may argue that the patent holder’s claims are barred by laches.  In ruling, the Federal Circuit distinguished the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Petrella v. Metro-Goldmyn-Mayer, Inc., holding that laches does not apply to claims for copyright infringement.  In Petrella, the Supreme Court reasoned that since the copyright statute includes a three year damages period and the statute does not list laches as a defense, laches does not apply.  Like the copyright statute, the U.S. Patent Act includes a limited damages period (6 years) and, also like the copyright statute, the U.S. Patent Act does not list laches as a defense. Nonetheless, in SCA Hygiene, a small majority of the Federal Circuit held that laches still applies in the patent context because there was evidence in the U.S. Patent Act’s legislative history indicating that Congress intended laches to apply as a defense to patent infringement. 

The Supreme Court should render a decision by June 2017. 

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